Wall Street pioneer Muriel Siebert, first woman to buy a seat on the NYSE
Of the 62 traders, brokers and investors profiled by Martin Mayer and photographed by Cornell Capa for the 1969 book, “New Breed on Wall Street,” Siebert was the only woman. The book was subtitled, “The young men who make the money go.”
In paying $445,000 for one of the New York Stock Exchange’s 1,366 memberships on Dec. 28, 1967, Muriel “Mickie” Siebert broke up the all-male bastion of the Big Board, which until then had permitted women on the trading floor only as clerks and pages to fill shortages during World War II and the Korean War.
Much of the opposition was couched as kindness.
“There was all manner of concern for my delicate ears — with several articles postulating that a woman couldn’t handle the rough language of Wall Street — and many comments about the absence of a ladies’ room on the Stock Exchange floor,” Ms. Siebert recalled in her 2002 memoir, “Changing the Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick,” written with Aimee Lee Ball.
Ms. Siebert, 84, who died Saturday in Manhattan of complications of cancer, said that the lack of enthusiasm for welcoming a female colleague was evident in her search for the two sponsors she needed under membership rules.
After several rejections, she got James O’Brien, a partner at Salomon Brothers & Hutzler, and Kenneth Ward, a partner at Hayden Stone, to back her.
Ms. Siebert’s revolution was at least partly symbolic, because she did most of her work away from the floor, researching companies and advising clients of her sole-proprietor firm. Her stock-exchange membership meant that she could, when she desired, handle the actual buying and selling of securities, giving her a larger share of commissions.
Of the 62 traders, brokers and investors profiled by Martin Mayer and photographed by Cornell Capa for the 1969 book, “New Breed on Wall Street,” Ms. Siebert was the only woman. The book was subtitled, “The young men who make the money go.”
In 1975, when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) moved Wall Street from fixed commissions to negotiated ones, Ms. Siebert retooled Muriel Siebert & Co. into a discount brokerage, cutting her rate in half for individual investors.
She went on to serve five years as New York State’s first female superintendent of banks. After an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1982, she returned to her brokerage, which she took public in 1996 under the holding company Siebert Financial.
The brokerage offered clients the option to trade online, and for two brief periods in 1999, as Internet-related stocks soared, her 90-percent-plus ownership stake made her, on paper, a billionaire. Within months, some $700 million of that disappeared.
Ms. Siebert was born Sept. 12, 1928, in Cleveland, the daughter of Irwin Siebert, a dentist, and the former Margaret Roseman. Her birth year was often reported as 1932 and she chose not to set the record straight.
“Mickie had a famous saying, ‘Age has a number and mine is unlisted,’ ” said Laura Hynes-Keller, a spokeswoman for Siebert Financial, who disseminated a genealogical record showing 1928 as the correct birth year.
As Ms. Siebert told it in her memoir, she left home for the first time in 1953 for a summer trip to New York City with two friends and “a busload of other gawking tourists.”
During a guided tour of the NYSE, she remembered looking down from the visitor’s gallery at a “sea of men in dark suits.”
Ms. Siebert at the time was a student at Cleveland’s Flora Stone Mather College, the women-only school at Western Reserve University, today’s Case Western Reserve University.
Her father’s death from cancer during her junior year prompted Ms. Siebert to look for work before finishing her undergraduate degree.
In 1954, she drove to New York in a used Studebaker to live with her older sister, who was working in public relations.
Ms. Siebert said she unsuccessfully sought jobs at the United Nations and Merrill Lynch before deciding she would have to lie about lacking a college degree.
The trick worked at her next interview, with Bache & Co., which hired her as a research department trainee at $65 a week. She got her start as an analyst covering entertainment companies, then the aviation industry, at a time when railroads still dominated transport discussions on Wall Street.
“It wasn’t long before jets revitalized the industry,” Ms. Siebert wrote, “and eventually commercial jets came along. I was at the threshold of a major chapter in economic history.”
By 1965, when she became a partner at Brimberg & Co., she was earning $250,000 a year and had her eye on more.
“When I started to bring in institutions on the research that I was doing, I wasn’t being paid what the men were making,” she told Charlie Rose in a 1999 interview. “Don’t misunderstand me: I was making a lot of money then. I was making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year — that was back in 1967. And I asked a client, where can I go where I can get credit on the business I do? What big firm could I go to? He said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Buy a seat, work for yourself.’ ”
On the advice of that client — Gerald Tsai Jr., who had gained fame as a money manager for what today is Fidelity Investments — she researched NYSE rules and found no legal bar to her admission.
Ms. Siebert paid the $445,000 cost, plus an initiation fee of $7,515, with cash and a bank loan backed by her stock portfolio.
Starting with the stock exchange’s announcement of her membership, she said, she resumed telling the truth about leaving college before earning her degree. She received her white metallic NYSE badge, with No. 2646 in red.
Ms. Siebert never married. Starting in 1999, she developed and promoted an academic curriculum to teach personal-finance skills to high-school students.
“Do not be afraid to go into uncharted territories,” she told Wagner College graduates at their 2010 commencement. “You might find some pretty good things there.”